ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15

She saw through the glass of sham

Clare Senewiratne

"Dust to the dust! But the pure spirit shall flow
Back to the burning fountain whence it came,
A portion of the eternal…
(Percy Bysshe Shelley)

Throughout human history, in our own lives and our experience there have been, and we are fortunate indeed if we have in the least way associated with them, those "pure spirits" whose passing away into another dimension is an incalculable loss to us who are left behind.

Clare, my colleague in the absorbing, exciting sphere of journalism, my dear friend for over half a century, a woman admired, honoured, respected, recognized as gifted and respected for her courage and commitment, her zeal, her complete honesty and sheer forthrightness in every sentence she ever wrote.

The "written word", said the poet W.H. Auden, "doth long remain". I have met many people, both women and men, who told me, "We have preserved her fine Editorials in files and scrapbooks".

Clare wrote with a tang, with a pithy turn of phrase that could sting at times and when necessary and in a way that reached into the very core of her themes. She spotlighted human cupidity, insensitivity, the base, the shoddy and the false, also the fine things in life. She saw through the glass of sham and affectation very clearly and being a writer, she had the opportunity to courageously expose it all. She could never be influenced, nor could one "curry favour" with Clare, she was never impressed with a show of grandeur or power. She possessed, amply the power of the pen, far mightier than the sword. She despised cant and fawning, was scathing in her denunciation of it. She called a spade a spade even if, sometimes, it made some people uncomfortably squirm! She was an ardent champion of human rights especially of the rights of children and devoted much space in LANKA WOMAN to highlighting the violation of their rights.

Clare joined Lake House in 1950, the same year I did. That was its golden era, everyone and everything was larger than life. I have worked on practically every English newspaper published in this country for the past fifty years but I have never known editors of the calibre of those great and erudite men, who edited the Lake House newspapers at that time, who made the best of the abilities of persons like Clare. Soon she was editing the Daily News Women's pages, when Anne left to look after her growing family. Clare was also contributing columns to the Sunday Observer. CAMEO was much looked forward to by readers.

I was very young and I looked up to Clare as an older sister, a mentor and guide who always gave me sound practical advice and guidance. She had been a teacher for some years and had already found her feet. And Lake House, like all newspaper offices, was always a simmering cauldron of ideas, opinions, attitudes, activities, reactions, dominated by deadlines.

We both attended Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya where she had distinguished herself. Her name was on the Roll of Honour and in 1998 when, for the first time the past pupils of HFC and the school decided to honour some of its alumni with "Awards for Achievement", Clare was a worthy recipient. She always claimed it was the Award she most appreciated and she won many in her career.

By then she was the celebrated Editor of the popular tabloid, LANKA WOMAN. Few, except Anne, Delerine, Daphne, Beryl, Dr. Pam and myself realized what an onerous task was hers to ensure that every Wednesday LANKA WOMAN, bright, breezy, full of goodness was out on the news stands. Her own talent and flair gave LANKA WOMAN its special character, but Clare had the rare ability to spur her team to produce the best they were capable of, to inspire them to venture into creative writing as well as reportage. That is why Clare's LANKA WOMAN captivated its readers. Week after week for 20 long years and every issue as fresh, as different as a new day. She provided a tabloid that suited every age group, had something for everyone who read it and was of absorbing interest to every member of the family.

Her pungent wit was always lively. Her acid comments on the "goings on" all around us, politically, socially, pseudo-culturally were a delight to hear. She saw so well how the carousel was revolving at breakneck speed and would sooner rather than later collapse, be scattered into small pieces. It saddened her as it does all those of us who remain sane in a mad mad world. What she saw multiplying was man's sycophancy, the long rows of despicable torch bearers, the frightening manner in which the moral fibre of Society is being destroyed, the terrifying destruction not only of life in the theatre of conflict, but also of values and above all the perfidious corruption of the young.

Now you are gone to your golden glory there is no one left to talk these things over as you and I have done in all these years. But I take comfort from the poet's words and think of you as "still the same". I say with him, "you are not dead, but gone away". And remember that

"There is no death! The stars go down
To rise upon some fairer shore;
And bright in Heaven's jewelled crown
They shine forever more."

I have been enriched by knowing and working with you. Rest in peace; you have served your times and made the world a better place for your having been here.

By Maureen Seneviratne.

Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.